The Life and Death of a Virtual Guru

COVID-19 has completely changed us, some more than others and while I hear and can sympathize with my extroverted friends who are right now really coming to terms with long-haul social distancing, except for all the death, I’m living my best introverted life right now. All I’ve ever wanted is to work from home and never have to go anywhere. Given that, I now see that over the years I’ve pre-cultivated a whole bunch of COVID-appropriate, socially-distanced activities that are coming in handy now. The most well-seasoned: virtual yoga.

I’ve been practicing yoga by myself in my living room to some recording for nearly 22 years. About five years ago, I found Fightmaster Yoga on YouTube accidentally because I had to throw out a DVD player and was left only to stream and when I saw “Fightmaster” I thought it was some badass warrior-inspired pose. Nope…just her badass real name. But at about 50 years old, Lesley Fightmaster was my most favorite, most wise yoga teacher. Every single class focused on exactly what yoga should–intention, breath, and using asana to connect to something other than you. She could wrap her leg around her head, sure, but she never made me feel less for most certainly not being able to do that myself. It was a message of compassion and love and, at 600k youtube subscribers, I wasn’t the only one who found her way resonant. Despite this massive following, I always felt that she cared about me and my practice.

This is where the story takes an unexpected turn. On December 4, as I was browsing through my email I opened what I thought was a weekly email from Fightmaster Yoga, no biggie, only to discover a note from her husband, Duke, sharing that Lesley Fightmaster passed away unexpectedly on November 21.

Had this been a physical note, I would’ve done that classic movie “drop a letter in shock” move but it was my Iphone and there was no chance I was dropping that thing. I was and still am floored. And I began to realize how weirdly real this teacher relationship was for me despite the fact that I did not know her “in person.” She was a virtual guru with a real impact. Her loss demands the same kind of grieving of a real, in-person relationship yet I know it was completely one-sided because, though she was a real presence for me, she had no knowledge that I even existed.

This is both the wonder and peril of a virtual world, isn’t it? To dig into it gives me real pause–at once it was both a very real…something. It brings up the boundaries we use to describe friendship or relationship in a way that’s almost too elusive. A relationship is necessarily a double-sided venture; you have to be in relation to have relationship. That did not exist and yet my grief about it is as real as any other. I considered her a real teacher, a real impact on my life and her not being there anymore will continue to have an effect on my day to day. Yet, virtually, I’m left to mourn her somewhat alone; I don’t know anyone else in her community; they don’t know me. We grieve together but alone.

I’m still working my way through this one. Upon hearing the news, I immediately thought, “oh, well her YouTube lives on and she won’t be gone for me.” I haven’t been able to look at that channel since knowing of her passing. That might be the boundary line for me; though she lives on, it’s somewhat as a ghost. Only time will tell, I guess.

Blessings and peace, Lesley Fightmaster.

9 thoughts on “The Life and Death of a Virtual Guru

  1. Your words perice down to my heart of what I feel for Leslie Fightmaster and it’s one in the same for me. I did not know her personally but it hit home for me. Leslie helped me through tough times for the past six years and I was very shocked when my 17-year-old daughter told me about her death. She started following her and told me about it last week. I’ve been pretty busy and haven’t been reading any posts but just doing the videos. Astonished and grief stricken I am still. I’m wondering what is the cause of her death?

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    1. My experience in finding Leslie on YouTube mirrors the author. Her family has kept the cause of her passing out of the public domain. The only mention of ‘died unexpectedly’ was released online. The community has respected her memory by not causing speculation. Such a loss for everyone. Rest easy Leslie.

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  2. I love Leslie! I was really hit by her death as well. She’s been a godsend for me before and especially during the pandemic. I feel so close to her; I truly respect her practice and her spirit. Very saddened. Though I struggled with her passing, I have kept doing her videos. I think I just don’t want to let them go. Also, the thing about yoga is it can be so ritualistic… it doesn’t have to have a new sequence every week or so to be a valid practice. I take comfort in her YouTube channel still. RIP Leslie!

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    1. I should go back to her videos now that a little time has passed because I really miss her. And I TOTALLY agree that a yoga practice can be done repeatedly…that’s usually how I’ve done it! To Leslie!

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  3. I’ve never commented on an internet article before, but I came across this today and I just have to tell you – I was a close friend of Lesley’s for many years. I met her outside of the yoga world, but of course I ended up there anyway because of her.
    I was thinking of her today and reading some old posts about her when I came across this one.
    I was close with Lesley, and reading your words about your feelings for her and your grief during that time years ago gave me this intense feeling of appreciation for the impact her life had on the world. I also know in my bones how much those words would mean to her if she could read them, and I felt an overwhelming need to let you and the others who commented on your post know that. She was a gift to all of us whether we met her in person or not. She was such a great teacher because she loved and believed whole-heartedly in what she was teaching. She had so much compassion and empath, and she was there to share what she had learned on her journey with anyone who wanted it.
    So, whoever you are… thank you for writing & sharing that 2 years ago. It was so sweet and unexpected. I know if she could read it she would’ve been humbled and grateful for you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This is positively amazing. I still think about her often and continue to do the practices she posted on YouTube. Thanks so much for this comment. You’re lucky to have known her.

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    2. As the author says, I also consider Lesley a yogic cosmic mentor and continue to practice with her gift to us through her online teachings. I find comfort in knowing that I am not a total weirdo for admiring her work and life at a virtual distance and grieving for her last life. It’s like the same connection through time and space that we can connect to an author or artist. I find her life struggles to also be a reminder that we all have to work through our pain and it gives me inspiration to keep going…keep breathing through the tough times. Thank you all for posting. And I send light and warm virtual hugs out to you guys!

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